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According to Hoyle...

WWDC '09 Round Up

July 2009

by Jonathan Hoyle

jonhoyle@mac.com

macCompanion

http://www.jonhoyle.com

 

 

As this is my fourth year as a MacCompanion columnist, I now bring you my fourth annual report on Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference. For those who do not already know, Apple hosts this week-long conference about this time every year, preparing developers for the newest technologies that are expected in the near future.  In recent years, the conference attendance size has continued to grow, with tickets completely selling out these past two years.  (Actually, WWDC '07 was also technically sold out, although this was compensated for by Apple cutting back on the number of its own employees from attending.)

 

Much of the material covered in WWDC is covered by a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), meaning that I can speak about those matters only to others who are under NDA.  However, there is a great deal of material that is available to the general public.  This includes the WWDC keynote address, which has been made available by Apple for viewing.  It can also be viewed on YouTube.  Other material not included in the keynote may also outside Apple's NDA if it is publicly released.  An example of this is OpenCL, a new Apple technology which is released as an open industry standard.  Finally, there are technologies owned or used by Apple, but are part of the public domain.  Two examples of these are gcc and CUPS, both critical to Mac OS X, but are free for all to view.

 

 

New Operating Systems

 

The two central topics for this year's conference was Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and iPhone OS 3.0.  Unlike most of the Mac OS X upgrades in recent years, 10.6 will not see major new features or user interface overhauls (despite the false rumor of a new interface named Marble predicted in various newsgroups). The goal for 10.6 was performance improvements and better developer tools for creating next generation products.  For this reason, Apple has modified its usual $129 upgrade path for new versions of Mac OS X, and will be charging on $29 to current Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard users.  10.6 is an Intel-only OS, and is expected to be available in September.  Apple had originally hoped to release 10.6 at WWDC '09, but inevitable delays cause them to announce in May that conference attendees would instead receive a "final developer preview release". On the day of the conference keynote, the word final was replaced by near final, indicating that there will be one more prerelease of 10.6 between now and its commercial release in September.  Next month I will devote a column specifically to the upcoming Snow Leopard OS, but this month I will write about the conference itself.

 

As with last year's conference, the iPhone was a huge part of this year's conference.  And this is not surprising considering the number of iPhone and iPod Touches that have been sold.  At the keynote, it was mentioned that the OS X installed base has tripled due to these devices.  Consider: many of us Macintosh fans have been around for 20 years, being very loyal and proud supporters of the platform.  But now there are now two iPhone/iPod Touch users for every one Mac user.  This all in just two years.

 

 

Wow.

 

I must admit, I am not sure what to think about that.  We Mac developers have just been instantly eclipsed by the iPhone.  We are now in their shadow, not the other way around ... at least as far as numbers go.  And the demographics are different too.  If you walked into a typical Mac session at this year's WWDC, you would mostly see what you would expect: predominantly male programmers, mostly in their 40's, most having been Mac people for two decades.  But walk into an iPhone session, and what do you see?  Young people, in their 20's ... and a noticeable number of young women in the mix.  All with the enthusiasm and excitement about the iPhone that I had about the Mac two decades ago.

I suddenly found myself feeling a little old.

 

Not that there's really any reason to feel this way.  After all, both the Mac and iPhone platforms are variations of OS X.  There is significant overlap in the Cocoa API for developing for both.  And let's face it, Mac users still bring in the revenue, as even the most expensive iPhone is still far cheaper than the least expensive iMac.  But there is this nagging feeling that the present Mac developer community will soon be giving way to a new generation.  Perhaps it's happening already.  After all, 60% of this year's attendees are first timers ... it seems very likely that they are predominantly interested in the iPhone.

 

And it appears that Mac developers were the ones willing to do more to attend WWDC.  Why do I say that?  It came about from noticing what seemed to be a random fluctuations for final prices in scalped WWDC tickets on Ebay.  One auction would sell its ticket for $1600 after only 2 bids while another selling for over $3000 after 47 bids, all in the same day, mere hours apart.  I didn't understand this until I saw the pattern: those with ending prices of less than $2000 had auction titles like "WWDC 2009 Apple Developer Conference ticket", while the ones selling for more than that (often much more) had titles like "WWDC Ticket Apple Conference San Francisco Mac Developer".  When the auction title included the word "Mac" (not just "Apple"), it sold on average for $1000 more.

 

 

Disappointments Galore

 

Although this is my 4th MacCompanion article on WWDC, it is actually my 12th time in attendance.  Sadly, I have watched this conference slowly degrade with time.  In years past, WWDC would offer great parties, wonderful food, so many giveaways and t-shirts that you needed to pack an extra suitcase.  Today, it has been reduced to a mere shadow of its former self.  And WWDC '09 was perhaps the conference's historic low.

 

Simply put, WWDC '09 was filled with disappointments.  Some of these disappointments were not Apple's fault.  For example, last minute excitement generated a rumor that Steve Jobs might make an appearance at the keynote address.  Of course he did not.  A liver transplant is major surgery, and there would be no way he would have been there.  However, no one at the time knew about this surgery, so unbridled enthusiasm reigned.

 

Other disappointments were due entirely to the scaling back of the conference amenities.  In WWDC's past, one could get by with evening WWDC snacks for dinner.  Three years ago, one could dine at Apple's expense each of the four evening of the conference: Monday was the WWDC Welcome Reception, Tuesday there was pizza and the like before the Design Awards and Stump the Experts, Wednesday had more snacks during the Scientific Poster Session and encore sessions, and of course Thursday was the Apple Party.  In 2007 & 2008, they double-upped the Scientific Poster Session onto Tuesday, making Wednesday an event free night.  This year, they killed off both the Scientific Poster Session an the long-running WWDC Welcome Reception.  Plus they removed all the food options Tuesday night.  The only evening meal this year was at the Apple Party on Thursday night.

 

Not that the lunches were any great prize.  I never thought that the lunches could get worse, but I was wrong.  This year, they got rid of soda during lunch.  Three liquid options: canned sweetened ice tea, canned lemonade, and water.  No Coke, no diet soda, nothing.  (Although some diet soda showed up in mid-afternoon sessions.)  And the lunches themselves were these tasteless wrap options.  For the first time, I skipped the Apple lunches and ate out.  (It seemed too degrading to eat terrible food while nearby San Francisco restaurants offered some of the finest cuisine in the world.

 

 

The crowds were also pretty bad this year.  Being another sold out conference, I had prepared myself for the lines being just as bad as last year.  What I hadn't prepared for was that it was going to be worse this year!  Due to the insistence of the San Francisco Fire Marshall, this year's attendance numbers could not appreciably different from WWDC '08 (even with Apple time-sharing its engineers better).  However, crowding was worsened by Apple's decision to run sessions 7 at a time, instead of 8 at a time as it had in the last several years.  The SOMA conference room was disbanded, and so each remaining session could expect to see an (average) increase of 15% in audience size.  Each presentation session saw long lines of people queueing up.

 

 

The Apple Party ... well, it was okay I guess.  It was the best food of the week, but of course that was not saying much.  The sushi was of course the best, but how excited could I be lining up at the hot dog bar, or queueing to eat some unremarkable pasta?  The band was Cake [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CAKE ].  So I am uncool if I admit I've never heard of them?  Yawn.  After last year's fantastic appearance of the Bare Naked Ladies, I guess it would have taken a lot to impress me.

 

 

Bright Spots

 

The high point of the conference was certainly Tuesday night, with the double booking of the Apple Design Awards and Stump the Experts. ADA is always interesting, in which the best of the best Macintosh and iPhone applications get to be shown off.  There was no single remarkable moment as there was last year (when John Geleynse stole the show playing Slow Hand on Guitar Hero III), but it was fun nonetheless.  However, this year's crowd was so great, even the large Presidio auditorium could not hold everyone, so many of us had to watch the Design Awards in an overflow room.

 

But the best of that night (and of the entire conference) was Stump.  Host Fred Huxham was in fine form that night, as usual.  However, it was co-host Mark Harlan who really shined this year.  In the past, Mark has sometimes upstaged Fred a little too much, distracting from the event, but at Stump '09 Mark was absolutely superb.  I couldn't get enough of him, he was great.  His interaction with the audience was absolutely amazing, and his comedic timing was perfect.

 

The best point came with an audience question, "What was the worst Mac?", causing almost the entire expert assemblage to circle and argue over what would be the right answer.  Even a half hour into the discussion, you could see the experts still hotly debating their points.  Mark described the question as a "social denial of service attack".

 

This was perhaps the best Stump I had ever seen.

 

 

Another very amusing event at this year's conference took place Monday morning while we were all in line waiting to get into the keynote.  As we waited outside, jet-lagged and irritated, a horse drawn carriage filled with scantily clad girls advertising iPorn.com pulled up to us.  These half naked girls (in 55 degree weather, mind you) came out to show their ... uh ... wares.  Most of us had a pretty good laugh about it (since most of us were males), and the girls were very friendly to us Mac developers.

 

Of course, it's certainly fair to say that the excitement these girls showed was genuine.  I know that they were paid to be there, but I'm sure they'd have been there anyways.  After all, what would a bunch of bikini-clad 20 year olds prefer more than to flirt with 5,000 out-of-shape, middle aged computer geeks?  Surely they were there to meet us personally.  The porn web site they had printed on their bottoms was completely beside the point, I'm sure.

 

(Hey, it's my article.  I can believe what I want.)

 

 

 

Failed Logistics

 

From a logistical point of view, this year's WWDC was the worst ever (even the iPorn girls couldn't make that better).  There is no close second.  Monday, the opening day of the conference, was a complete nightmare.  Beginning with the keynote, everything went wrong.  Although the keynote began promptly at 10, it took Apple until after 10:30 to everyone seated in all the overflow rooms.  People were very unhappy having paid all this money and missed an entire segment of the keynote (I went back watched the hardware announcements over a streaming channel at lunch.)  What makes this inexcusable is that they have known for six weeks exactly how many people would be in attendance.  They sold out their tickets at the end of April, so they had plenty of time to prepare and let people get to their seats before the keynote's start.

 

Moreover, their (apparent) last minute cancellation of the Monday night WWDC Welcome Reception left a number of us standing around and confused.  Those using their iPhones to see the conference schedule could figure it out, as their Monday Night was left blank (no mention of a cancellation, just left blank).  Those using computers had problems.  If you went to the WWDC Attendee page, you correctly saw no Monday night event, but if you simply went to the WWDC public page for Events, it was still listed (and continues to be as I write this now).  A number of us stood around on the 2nd Floor for a good half hour waiting, until finally Security told us the hall was closing.  Quite bizarre.

 

 

Even more atypical was the rudeness of one Apple conference organizer of whom I asked this very question.  It began by my asking the security person by the second floor escalator if the Welcome Reception was still happening.  He didn't know, but he wanted to find out since I was the fourth person to ask him that very question.  As we were chatting, I see an Apple rep coming down the escalator from the 3rd floor, so we ask her.  Curtly she said no.  I asked her if she knew that it was still advertised on the Apple web site.  Without stopping, she said "I don't think so," and kept walking.  I was taken aback by her rudeness, as Apple reps have always bent over backwards to be helpful.  While I stood there with my job open, the security guy says to me, "Pleasant, isn't she?"  (I liked that guy.)  I had a good chuckle over that.  My only regret was that I was too stunned by her abrupt manner to get a look at her name.  Had I done so, I would certainly have been happy to publicly share it in this column.  I know her face though, and if I see her again, I will let you dear readers know.

 

Demos were also poorly mishandled.  The last two iPhone demos that were supposed to climax Scott Forstall's talk simply failed to work.  Despite the claim that everything worked correctly during rehearsal, the two back-to-back failures were just embarrassing.  Demos throughout the conference failed, as if the presenters just didn't care enough to make sure they worked.  I know that can't be the case, but the continual on-stage bungling just seems inexcusable to me.

It's as if they off-shored their logistics people or something.  60% of this year's attendees are first timers at WWDC, and they were not left with a very strong impression.  I usually don't call for head rolling for such mistakes, but this year I feel it is due.  All of the Apple employees responsible for organizing this conference ought to be fired.  Period.

 

 

Conclusion

 

So how do I rate this year's conference?  Logistically, it was an F, no question about it.  But the keynote was an improvement over last year, despite the failed demos and the missing Steve Jobs, perhaps a C+.  The overall amenities I'd have to give a D to, the food another F, but Stump was a solid A.  (The iPorn girls don't get a grade, since they are considered extra-curricular activity.)

 

Despite the good, I still come away from this year's conference as the worst of the 12 WWDC's I have attended.  Worse even than the depressing 1997 conference, in which attendees thought the Mac was finished.  For this reason, I have to give WWDC '09 the lowest grade yet: a D.

 

 

Coming Up Next Month:  In depth analysis on the upcoming Snow Leopard operating system!  See you in 30!

 

To see a list of all the According to Hoyle columns, visit:  http://www.jonhoyle.com/maccompanion

 

http://www.maccompanion.com/macc/archives/July2009/Columns/AccordingtoHoyle.htm